Friday, 1 February 2013

FROM THE VAULTS

Historical document from twelve years ago

Crisis hidden by fame?

Too few conductors at the

Pető Institute

Mohos Nádor Tamás
Nepszabadsag, 2 August 2000

Severe crisis has taken hold of the Pető Institute, say the conductor-teachers. The directorate of the Institute is trying to prevent further loss of staff by introducing a contract of employment which, according to experts, is illegal on several counts. Conductors say that the chronic shortage of trained personnel is now endangering the development of children. Furthermore, they are prevented from admitting the severely disabled. The Director states that this is not so, all those children who are able to benefit are admitted.

'It used to be a pleasure to work in the Pető Institute. Lately there is a frightful atmosphere’ states one of the conductor tutors. ‘Working in this Institute has no professional prospects. All the experienced, respected talents from whom one could learn have disappeared. The best have gone abroad, others go to other institutes or have babies, the main thing is not to be here.’ says a group leader.
 
With seven years' experience I am paid 36,000 Forints net. There is no overtime because the Institute cannot afford to pay for it. But the main problem is the tense atmosphere created by the leadership. I am now thinking of taking full maternity leave. I was thinking of having only one child but I have now decided to have three and stay at home for ten years. By then, I hope, there will have been a change here, as things cannot continue like this’, confesses one conductor.

My 37-hour overtime in February, without my consent, is deemed to be time in lieu. My basic salary is 35,000 Forints. Lack of staff, lack of facilities to specialise, lack of interest from the directorate…’ reads one of the resignation letters.

One cannot tell how many of the three-hundred conductors have left last year and this year. The directorate refused to say, according to rumour, some fifty.

Conductive Education, the Pető method, is one of the few concepts that this small country could introduce to the big world. It requires great effort from conductor and pupil for many years to achieve independence. Conductors require immense mental and physical energy.

The Institute is now in crisis, or so the conductors say (none of them dared to put their name to their statements).

Money is not the only problem. Atmosphere and facilities are deteriorating. They have to beg even for pencil and paper. Poor quality clothing. A constant theme of conversation is who is going where. They can earn £2K in the UK and 5K DM in Germany. The best have already gone so there are no role models for the young.

The children suffer from the shortage of staff. Conductors can no longer walk them from A to B, to the WC, etc. so they push them around in wheelchairs. The less the children walk the stiffer they get.

Most of the conductors, to enhance income and in spite of this being forbidden by the directorate, work with foreign children in the afternoons, evenings and weekends. Some go abroad with these families.

The Institute is falling apart, feels one conductor. Less and less foreign children each year, conductors leaving, no increase in state support for ages, lack of rewards and exhaustion of conductors.

Conductors need to spend nineteen hours each week with the children. There is a shortfall of thirty to forty percent in the Hungarian classes and fifty percent in the international classes. They used to make this up to some extent with overtime but since February they were told that they cannot get paid for more than a very few hours per week.

There was a memorable meeting at beginning of the year when Mrs Salga announced a change in the conductor-child ratio to 1:4. This is the only way in which the Institute can remain economically viable.

This is nonsense, says a group leader. Ratios depend on the severity of each pupil, sometimes several conductors need to work with one child. This was when it was stated that very severely affected children were best not admitted.

[There follow further illustrations on the same theme, including a quote from another resignation letter, according to which several written protests were disregarded by management and it became obvious that only the economics of the situation mattered.]
 
To hinder further conductor migration the directorate is trying to alter employment contracts in a unique way. Those who are willing to sign are given monthly 10,000 Forints extra in exchange for the following obligations:
  1. If they leave for whatever reason they cannot work with any institution that the Pető Institute has a contract with, not even for career development
  2. Conductors have to make quarterly reports of the amount and source of their income, including the amount and source of the income(s) of members of their family if that employment is in any way related to Conductive Education
  3. iIf the Pető Institute judges resignation to be illegal, signatories to the amended contract will be obliged to pay back to the Pető Institute their average salary, in retrospect
  4. Failure to comply with any of the above, including working for higher salaries at rival institutions, will result in being sued for several million Forints in damages
  5. This contract is as confidential as every respect of the work.
[There follow opinions from named lawyers]
  • The confidentiality clause cannot be adhered to and is illegal. No one is obliged to keep personal information a secret. Nor is it a service secret, as conductors are not defence-workers or civil servants. Moreover the Pető Institute is a teaching establishment whose whole point is to impart professional information to third parties. It is illegal to demand compensation for ‘illegal resignation’. Demanding information from family members and thus their employers contravenes data protection. The lawyers comment that retaining employees should not be achieved by renegotiating civil rights but by substantially increasing salaries.
  • The few thousand Forints in exchange for signing this contract cannot compensate for giving up the civil right to work in one’s own profession for two years.
  • The contract is one-sided, in favour of the employer, some aspects are immoral others illegal. It could not be defended in a court of law. It speaks volumes about the employers’ attitude to their colleagues.
Conductors are unanimous in saying that threats are not the way to keep staff. One very bitter conductor says that the current management is a bad keeper of the carefully nurtured institute of András Pető.

[A comment is made about the two foundations: the Pető András Foundation and the International Pető Foundation. It seems that no information is forthcoming from the directorate regarding the Pető András Foundation, known internally as the ‘Small Foundation’, in spite of requests from staff. It is rumoured within the Institute that any unspecified donation to the International Pető Foundation is deposited into the Small Foundation. Its use is then determined by the directorate.]

It is thought that contracting out services, e.g. maintenance and cleaning, cannot be cheaper.

The Pető Institute is kept maintained by a public foundation, established by the Hungarian Republic. Last year this had a budget of 1.17 milliard Forints. Of this, 540 million is state support. The end of year deficit was 50 million Forints. Before meeting the directorate I was informed that the Higher Education Council’s meeting a few days earlier discussed whether the Pető Institute should declare itself bankrupt in 2002.

Such things have never been mentioned’, countered Mrs Kozma, Director. She refuted that the Institute was on the verge of bankruptcy. The Pető Institute has financial difficulties, like all other health and education establishments. The main problem is that the state grant has not been increased for years and at the same time fee income from foreigners has decreased. This year’s budget is characterised by economies.

The Director says that they have had to cut the year’s expenditure from 1.3 milliard, by 300 million Forints. There is less for leaning, caretaking and transport, children are not taken door to door but only to collection points. But none of this is to the detriment of basic services.

Are you suffering from a shortage of conductors? I ask. Mrs Salga, Deputy Director, does not answer. We have enough conductors for the task in hand, for what the Institute is undertaking, adds the Director. She does not wish to reveal how many have left.

Mrs Salga reacted to the suggestion that loss of experienced conductors is leading to professional bankruptcy. ‘In the name of our staff we have to reject such an assumption. It is true that some experienced people have left but at times like these we discover that some of our colleagues who were pushed to the background have a lot to offer.’

In 1990 we realised that we had to establish the profession’s boundaries. After much research the 1:4 ratio was established. Finances also contributed. Some would like 1:1, but that is not CE. The 1:3 ratio, established abroad, is not cast in stone.’

They denied not admitting very severe cases. The assessing conductor only considers what is appropriate.

The contract alteration was for the Institute’s legal protection, and its economic and market interests. It happened that conductors sent abroad by the Institute have made agreements with other parties and the Institute has incurred loss of income and market.

According to legal opinions some aspects of the new contract are illegal. The Director said that their own legal advisors think otherwise.

An ex-employee has submitted the contract to the Ombudsman but had not yet heard back. I asked for the name of her legal advisor. ‘I don’t wish to comply with this request.’

There have been no legal suits so far, in spite of what they would term ‘illegal resignations’. Does this mean they know they have no case? They have had concrete evidence that leavers caused loss of market. ‘But this does not mean we won’t sue in the future’, said the Head of Personnel.

On questioning, the Director of Finance (Ferenczi Gábor), stated that they frequently analyse the costs of contractors versus in-house services and so far conclude that contractors are more economical. There has never been any movement of money between the two foundations. The Small Foundation was established twelve years ago and has mainly foreign donors. Annual income is a few million, administered by its trustees.

The question of bankruptcy was refuted by Mrs Kozma. They have no debts. The Higher Education Council’s lengthy accreditation procedure is now complete and the Institute received its certificate till 30 June 2002. By that date another faculty is also to be established.

[Final comment by journalist] Five-ten years ago the cream of the profession was still working at home. Now they are abroad. The unavoidable question: is this due purely to enhanced earnings there, or could it be that the Institute’s management of the last few years is also responsible.

Translated by Dr Kate Whelan
January 2001

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